October is Disability Employment Awareness Month. Disability employment is a cause near to my heart because I have been disabled for nearly thirty years, since shortly after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed into law. I was blessed that I didn’t have to face all the challenges that people with disabilities had to deal with before ADA.
I was also blessed that I never faced employment challenges since I owned my own business. Certainly there were work challenges, but I didn’t have to prove to a potential boss that I was capable of performing the job I was seeking.
The first time I called on a particular client of my interior landscape company after my stroke, I encountered a problem. I could get around in the atrium of the building easily in my scooter to see all of the plants. When I went to the office to call on the building manager, I could get into the office without a problem. I turned my scooter to be parallel with the door so I could get close enough to reach the handle. Once the door was open, I turned the scooter facing the door and entered. The office had a narrow hallway from the entrance that opened into the main office. The wall separated the entry hall from the supply room.
After my visit with the manager, I turned around to leave. There was no problem going down the hall to reach the door. However, there was no way I could exit. I couldn’t reach the door handle across the handlebars and controls of the scooter, and the hallway was too narrow to turn the scooter into a more accessible position. After several attempts, I backed down the hall and asked the manager to help me.
She got up from her desk, walked down the hall, opened the door, and held it for me. As I drove through the door, she shook her head and said, “If I had to use something like that to get around, I’d never go out in public.”
I responded, “Every morning when I wake up, I have the choice of deciding whether to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself or to get up and do what I must to perform my job.”
She apologized and said she meant her comment to be a compliment. I simply thanked her and left.
If I were an employee in that office, ADA would require that “reasonable accommodation” be made so I get through the door. They wouldn’t have to move the door or widen the hallway to make the door accessible, although that would be ideal. They could simply ensure that someone was available to open the door for me when I was leaving the office.
Employers may be hesitant to hire a job applicant with a disability out of concern that they would have to spend a lot of money to make major changes to accommodate the individual. But often, “reasonable accommodation” doesn’t require any significant changes. Depending on the person’s disability, accommodation could be something as simple as changing the schedule for breaks so an employee with diabetes can give herself an insulin shot when required or changing the height of a desk or the configuration of a work station so someone using an assistive device can work comfortably.
The video below is a reminder of how important working is and encouragement to employers to consider people with disabilities when hiring.